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How Donald Trump could sink the Republicans

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Zelizer: A Trump third-party candidacy could cause real problems for Republicans, as Ross Perot did in 1992

By rallying key elements of the conservative base, Trump could help elect Hillary Clinton

Editor’s Note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a New America fellow. He is the author of “Jimmy Carter” and “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. This is an updated version of an article that ran previously.

CNN —  

Earlier this year, Donald Trump suggested that if the Republican Party doesn’t treat him right, he might run as a third-party candidate. Republicans should be worried.

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

If Trump takes this step, he would add a serious element of uncertainty into an already unwieldy process. Trump can bring his demagoguery and willingness to say anything approach to the general election, when the outcome in a handful of states will determine the next president.

Should he run as an independent, Trump would be following in the footsteps of Ross Perot. In the 1992 presidential election, Perot caused immense trouble for Republican President George H.W. Bush in his campaign against Bill Clinton by entering the race as a self-financed third-party candidate. Like Trump, Perot had the money and media savvy to command national attention even without a formal party apparatus behind him.